Irregular Habs Lose to Isles but Beat Leafs

After a very solid effort against the New York Rangers, one would expect the Habs to start rolling a bit but the exact opposite happened on Thursday night. Most of the Habs were flat-footed for most of the night. It was such a bad effort that once they up 2-0, the Islanders thought it acceptable to sit on their lead for the entire third period. Since none of the Habs were skating, it was effective for 10 minutes until Danault went for a solo rush that worked. After that, many Habs skated the puck into the Isles zone and were successful. It was far too little, far too late as Julien must convince his team that they need to be far more physical to renew with success. Then again, any kind of effort would be welcome after that game on Thursday. It comes as no surprise then that the team was not very loose heading into last night’s contest against the Leafs despite their recent success against the Toronto squad.

Montreal had their legs moving early on Saturday night and were rewarded with some good scoring chances. The game had excellent pace with both teams creating off the rush and neither team getting much sustained zone time. Both teams got a power play that didn’t really create many chances or momentum. Eventually, Matthews would throw a puck on the net that would bounce off of Byron and Nesterov before finding the back of the net. Full credit to Matthews who had nowhere to go but decided to try the net instead of the usual dump and change. Montreal responded to the goal and really took control of the first period from that point on. Petry found a streaking Pacioretty who couldn’t beat the post. Montreal then squandered one more power play before the end of the period would arrive.

The second period slowed down considerably as many whistles littered the first half of the period. Finally, the Habs were awarded a power play, their third of the game, which they made good on as Galchenyuk found Pacioretty on a nifty pass across the top of the slot. Much like Montreal in the first, it was Toronto who pushed back after being scored on. They were also awarded a power play and made several nice plays on forcing Price with a few highlight-reel variety saves. Right after the power play, it was Montreal’s turn to find a lucky one as Beaulieu fired a shot wide only to find a retreating Galchenyuk next to the net who put it home to give the Habs their first lead of the game.

The lead would be short-lived as Toronto tied things up early in the third period. Alexei Emelin was late and soft on coverage yet again as Matthews could tip the puck through Carey Price. The rest of the period included many nice plays by both goaltenders were forced to shine throughout the period. The overtime was as entertaining as ever. Galchenyuk made a nice back-check on Matthews before Markov and Plekanec made a nice passing play from the defensive zone which gave Shaw a short breakaway which he made good on as Andersen made a strange challenge on the loose puck to end the game.

Observations

1. I’ve been claiming for a while now that if the coaching staff feels it necessary to keep Galchenyuk off the top unit, then they need to give him the best set of wingers left in an effort to create a real top 6. Add to this request the offensive black hole that has been Tomas Plekanec. It was an encouraging sign for me when Julien finally moved Byron and placed Lehkonen on the left of Galchenyuk and Gallagher as the young Lehkonen has been the most consistent forward on this team over the last month. They were the most dangerous line in the third on Thursday and once again spent most of their night in the Leafs zone on Saturday. It obviously helps that Galchenyuk played his best game since returning from injury, and don’t let the scoreboard alone convince you as 27 was also responsible for more than a few excellent defensive plays, none better than the overtime backcheck against Matthews which forced the likely Calder recipient to rush his shot on goal.

2. One of the things that drove me nuts about Therrien was his lineup changes that did not take into consideration the upcoming opponent. I have never hidden the fact that I prefer Pateryn to Nesterov. No one was expecting a game against the current version of the Maple Leafs to get physical so playing Nesterov was logical, so long as Pateryn gets back in when facing more physical opponents. This same logic applies to playing Markov with Weber. If Julien wants to keep them together permanently, it will be interesting to see how they fare once playing against the Penguins or Capitals. While I’m at mentioning these, the Andrighetto-Desharnais switch for McCarron-Flynn follows the same logic, though I’d like to see a bigger and faster body occupying the Flynn spot if Julien will be playing it this way.

3. I really thought some time away from the opposition best was going to give Emelin a chance to play some good hockey. Saturday’s effort against Toronto showed otherwise as Emelin continued to struggle. Hopefully an extended stay there is in order and will allow Emelin to gain a bit of confidence. Emelin playing some good important minutes is something this team needs if they are expected to get passed the first round in the spring.

Habs are back on the ice on Monday night at 7pm against the New Jersey Devils as I take that blog to also look at my expectations at the Wednesday trade deadline.

Thanks for reading,

Kevin Léveillé

Follow me on Twitter: @kev1586